If governing is a team sport, then cities are the first line of defense. And the country’s mayors are the head coaches. That’s why, during this year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., some of the nation’s leading municipal leaders had the chance to huddle with President Obama and members of his cabinet.
The two-day meeting at the White House covered a number of issues, from public safety to urban renewal. The mayors’ group included Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Anthony Foxx of Charlotte, NC, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, MI, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, Joe Riley of Charleston, SC, R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis and Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio.
The mayors also got a preview of the president’s upcoming State of the Union address, which will broadly cover manufacturing, training and support for community colleges, among other topics. “The president is very focused on what’s happening on the ground,” said Foxx.”
Mayor Nutter had the chance to speak with the president one-on-one. “I just wanted to thank him for all the support we’ve received: support for affordable housing, education, infrastructure; all of that has come from President Obama’s efforts,” he said.
Mayor Foxx described the president as upbeat. “He has a strong attachment to mayors," Foxx said. "Many of us have opportunities to visit with administration officials. Those are opportunities to share specific concerns about what's happening in our cities and have those concerns put through the process,” he said.
Foxx made his requests to the administration known as his city, like so many others, continues to climb out of the economic downturn. He wants to retain funding for community block grants and the home program at a time when budgets are being slashed left and right. “They support housing, after-school programs, and youth employment programs when folks are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and get retooled and retrained. It’s the worst time for those families to get cut off,” Foxx said.
Foxx believes this administration has been more open than any others in recent memory. ”Those who have been in office longer than me notice that they have had little contact," he said.
But the mayors’ meetings in Washington were more than a chance for them to rub shoulders with the most influential power brokers in the country. Nutter thinks the exchanges are beneficial for White House leaders as well. “[They're] helpful for the president and his cabinet, because we live in a real world with real problems. The president always wants to know what’s happening on the ground and not just live in the presidential bubble. He's very inquisitive and insightful,” Nutter said.
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(Photo: Chris Kleponis/Reuters)